The Reform of Economic Teaching

In Australia, only a few universities teach alternative economic perspectives or try to place economic behaviour in its historical and institutional setting. This is true also of economics teaching world-wide. The widespread criticism of mainstream economics and of the extreme policy agendas of economic fundamentalists have led to calls for the reform of economic teaching, including by economics students in France, Britain, the United States and Australia. Students at Cambridge University have called for an opening up of economics. They wish to encourage debate on contemporary economics and have criticised the monopolisation of the discipline by a single mode of reasoning.[92] They complain that the content of the discipline’s major journals, its faculties and its courses all point in this one direction. They doubt, like the analysis above, the general applicability of this formal approach to understanding economic phenomena and call for the foundations of the mainstream approach to be debated openly along with competing approaches. In particular, they believe that the status quo is damaging to students who are taught the ‘tools’ of mainstream economics without learning the domain of their applicability. They believe this situation is harmful to society in that it is holding back a deeper knowledge of economic phenomena and is denying the possibility of more fruitful policy approaches. It is also inhibiting the funding of alternative research approaches. Consequently, they advocate pluralism in economic research, calling not merely for its tolerance but for its flourishing. To this, I say Amen!

I therefore suggest that the teaching of economics should be changed so that the core content of undergraduate courses consists of the philosophy of the social disciplines, the history of economic thought, contemporary schools of economic thought—and then, and only then, more detailed study of particular schools. This should be complemented by a resumption of the study of economic history and the history of approaches to economic policy problems.